Posted Jan 6 2010 12:24PM
About 10 years ago, the Bulls had this bright idea: Why not stack the team with youth, suffer through the growing pains, then watch the wins roll in once youth begins to bloom?
Well, drafting Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler didn't exactly work out. Either the Bulls hitched themselves to the wrong players or the scheme was fraught with problems. The Bulls' patience wasn't rewarded and all they received for their experiment was a string of losing seasons and unfulfilled dreams.
So the whole idea about building primarily through youth is a total crapshoot, right? Try telling that to the Thunder. It's working out pretty well for Oklahoma City, thank you. And even though nothing's guaranteed, especially with regard to young players, whose future would you rather have: Oklahoma City's or, let's say, the Celtics?
There are two teams in the NBA falling in love with youth and more than willing to cope with any development issues. They have more barely-tapped talent than anyone, and would meet for the championship right now in a 23-and-under league. One team is obvious. The other might surprise you.
Here's an examination of some of the young involving selected 23-and-under players who haven't reached their primes with the Thunder and ... the Kings?
Kevin Durant, OKC, 21. Can he possibly win MVP this season? Or at least the scoring title? The answer to both is probably no, but just by being in the conversation for those two categories demonstrates just how fortunate the Thunder are to have the best young player in basketball. He just finished a streak of seven straight games of 30 points or more and is emerging as the rare player who will destroy anyone one-on-one. What's especially pleasing to coach Scott Brooks is how Durant buys into the concept of defense, often an irritant to big-time scorers. He's turning into a complete player, scary considering he's just getting started.
Russell Westbrook, OKC, 21. He has a tougher job than Durant merely because of the position he plays. Point guard is a big challenge for any young player, and while Westbrook doesn't have it down yet, he has all the tools to become a special player. He went for 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Derrick Rose, last year's top rookie. He's real.
Jeff Green, OKC, 23. He's due for a breakout year, either now or next. He averaged 13.8 points in November and 14.5 in December, and while his shooting comes and goes, he rides a solid shotgun position next to Durant. Already, Green is one of the more improved players in basketball.
James Harden, OKC, 20. Lots of NBA people like his game. The tools and the feel are there; it's just a matter of Harden developing some consistency and pushing for minutes. That may not happens in this, his rookie season. Still, he's a big part of the rotation already.
Eric Maynor, OKC, 22. A gift from the Jazz, who had to give him away for luxury tax reasons. He's not quite on Westbrook's level, especially physically, but gives the Thunder a nice young backup who can change the tempo of the game.
Tyreke Evans, Kings, 20. He was NBA-ready after his first practice, and is now the best rookie in basketball. Big, strong (6-foot-6, 200) and quick, they don't make too many point guards like him. Tends to play up to the level of his competition (25 points, nine rebounds, five assists against Chris Paul) but also seems to get his share of nagging injuries (lately, the ankle). It's quite possible that the only player 21-and-under who's better is Durant. Evans is the type of point guard who could spend the bulk of his career averaging 20 points, seven or eight assists and six or seven rebounds.
Jason Thompson, Kings, 23. Still somewhat rough around the edges but clearly a big-man talent who someday could routinely get double-doubles once he gets comfortable in his own skin. He's fairly consistent on a nightly basis; rarely spectacular. But he hasn't entered his prime yet. The Kings just need to be patient.
Omri Casspi, Kings, 21. He's one of the more pleasant surprises this season. A nice shooter with decent range who is on quite a roll and appears to have a solid NBA future. Not bad for the 23rd pick from Israel.
Spencer Hawes, Kings, 21. He went for 30 points and 11 rebounds in a career night against the Lakers, but overall his numbers are down from a year ago. This was the season the Kings expected Hawes to make a leap and become the next Brad Miller. But, again, he has the benefit of time.
Sergio Rodriguez, Kings, 23. He often fills in well when given decent minutes but for now, strictly a decent backup, with Evans around.
Donte Green, Kings, 21. He has scored 20 or more points four times and in time could push for more minutes and a bigger role.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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